WALL – On paper, Wall – ranked No. 4 in the NJ.com Preseason Top 10 and No.1 in the Shore Conference – appears to be the team to beat not only in the Shore, but quite possibly the entire state.
With four starting pitchers coming back, including SSN Pitcher of the Year Trey Dombroski, and all but one position player set to return, Wall is considered by many to be the most formidable team the Shore Conference has seen entering the regular season in many years.
That’s all fine and dandy for the high school baseball fans to converse about, but for the Crimson Knights players, last year’s loss in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III final is first and foremost on their collective minds as they enter the season.
“Yea, we got something to prove,” said Dombroski. “Obviously if we don’t get there (state championship) it’s a lost season for us. We just got to go out and give it our all every single time and we believe if we do that we can do big things this year. The target’s huge on our backs and we can’t go out and take anyone lightly because if we do, that may be the game that we lose that could hurt us in the end. We just have to go out and prove we’re the No. 1 team in the Shore.”
The Monmouth University-bound Dombroski, who went 8-1 with a 0.54 ERA while striking out 71 batters in 64.2 innings pitched, heads up a pitching staff that is second to none in the Shore this season and has the raw talent to carry this team all the way to a state championship.
“Yea, most likely,” Dombroski said when asked if the pitching staff looks to be the strength of the team. “We’re all returning guys so that’s good and we have a bunch of experience to gets us where we want to go; should be a good season.”
Joining the big lefty in the starting rotation are senior right-handers Grant Shulman and Ryan Napolitano and senior left-hander Tanner Powers.
Napolitano was a second-team All-Shore selection after going 7-1 with a 2.89 ERA with 54 K’s in 46 innings pitched. Napolitano will fill in at second base until Dylan Richey, who has just been cleared to resume workouts and is working himself into baseball shape, is set to go.
Richey started at shortstop last season hovering around the .300 mark at the plate with 25 runs scored, 12 stolen bases and 14 base on balls.
Last year’s starting second baseman, Johnny Volpe, slides over to shortstop until Richey returns. Richey and Volpe were the table setters at the top of the order last season for Shulman and Teddy Sharkey while also making up one of the deadliest double-play combinations in the Shore.
Shulman, also a standout third baseman and first-team All-Shore pick, posted a 5-1 record and 2.17 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 46 innings pitched. He played a flawless hot corner while hitting .449 with three homers, seven doubles, two triples and 26 RBI.
Powers is the No. 4 starter and a valuable relief pitcher as well, who posted a stingy 1.07 ERA last season when he went 2-0 in 13 innings pitched. He’s also an accomplished first baseman hitting .333 a year ago with six doubles and 14 RBI.
Sharkey – the starting centerfielder and a Florida State commit – will also be available to pitch but he’ll primarily roam the outfield. A year ago he hit .300 with three home runs, seven doubles and 24 RBI as a sophomore. With a year under his belt you can expect his offensive numbers to climb even higher this season along with increased time on the mound.
Senior Tyler Winkowski and sophomore Jason Bant are in the relief mix as well. Winkowski is also battling for a spot in left field with Sean Nocera, Gus Setteducato and Matt Cronson, while Bant could see time in the infield.
Senior Doug Wetzel returns to right field this season after supplying one clutch hit after another from the bottom of the order last season while hitting .324 and contributing 16 RBI.
David Howarth is back behind the plate this season after battling through injuries last season as a junior. He’s healthy now which is a big plus for the Crimson Knights and he’ll hit in the middle of the order. Nocera, who hit .417 in a limited role last season, will spell Howarth behind the plate to keep him fresh.
Seniors John Iradi and Drew Tidwell will contribute off the bench.
If Wall can steer clear of injuries, the only thing that can stop this team is themselves. All the pieces are in place and the loot is there for the taking. It’s your classic championship-or-bust season for Wall and nothing less will do.
“Every day,” said Dombroski when asked if the team talks about about winning that championship. “That’s our ultimate goal. We all want that so bad. Most of us are seniors and it’s our last high school season, so we just want to go out there and win it all.”